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Friday, March 12, 2010

Australia: Internet In Peril as Big Brother Is Still Watching, by Greg Tingle - 13th March 2010

Gaming, news media, entertainment and freedom of expression fans, your Internet is in danger, at least if you're one of our Australian readers.

The folks down under in Australia have spoken loud and clear...for almost a year now... they don't want their internet (or coffee as a general rule), filtered by the powers that be in the Australian government.

This most important of news stories has been covered in considerable detail by Media Man, Gambling911, and many of the world's leading news outlets.

What's at stake? Human rights and censorship, and that's just the tip of the iceberg folks.

Media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders has now listed Australia along with Iran and North Korea in a report on countries that pose a threat regarding internet censorship.

Paris-based RWB (Reporters Without Borders) put Australia and South Korea on its list of countries "under surveillance" in its "Internet Enemies" report delivered last Thursday.

Australia was listed for the government's plan to block access to websites featuring material such as rape, drug use, bestiality and child sex abuse. Gambling911 and Media Man do not support those vices, however we do believe that if people want to enjoy online poker, casino games and even a bit of regular porn, they should be able to! You're beloved Maxim, FHM, Penthouse and Playboy Poker Babes could even be in danger of becoming "illegal"!

Detractors are saying that the plan is a seriously misguided measure that will harm civil liberties by blocking a broader range of content than just "net nasty" content.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has advised he plans to introduce legislation by the end of next week that would require ISPs to block a blacklist of "refused classification" websites for all Australians.

It is not currently certain if the government will meet this deadline; a spokeswoman for Senator Conroy said the legislation would be introduced "after it has been considered by caucus and cabinet".

The inclusion on "Internet Enemies" follows the naming of Senator Conroy as the "Internet Villain Of The Year" last July at the Internet Service Providers' Association annual awards in London, a honour that Sen. Conroy shrugged off.

The latest report was of particular interest to Aussie campaigner Peter Coroneos, the MD of the IIA (Internet Industry Association), who told the press that it showed the international reception to the proposed internet filter.

"This regrettably puts Australia on notice that, despite the Rudd Government's best intentions, any mandatory filtering policy is likely to be perceived internationally in ways that will not benefit our reputation as a free and open society," he said.

"It will likely be used by less open societies as a vindication of their internet censorship regimes, despite any domestic attempts to draw distinctions. Mandatory filtering is mandatory filtering by whatever colour it is painted."

Senator Conroy's spokeswoman defended the internet filtering, advising RC content is already prohibited in physical media distributed offline.

"Under Australia's existing Classification regulations this material is not available in newsagencies, it is not on library shelves, you cannot watch it on a DVD or at the cinema and it is not shown on television," she said.

There's hope yet however...Whether the internet filtering scheme gets up will likely depend on the position of the Liberal party, as the Greens have already pledged to oppose the legislation.

The opposition has yet to come to a final position on the matter but in a speech to the Grattan Institute earlier this week shadow treasurer Joe Hockey said the policy was "likely to be unworkable in practice". He expressed concerns that the scope of blocked websites could be expanded in the future and said it was up to parents, not governments, to regulate their childrens' internet use.

A spokeswoman for Hockey said today that the shadow treasurer's comments should not be interpreted as confirmation that the opposition would oppose the filtering legislation, as a decision had not yet been made at this this time.

In South Korea, the RSF report added, "draconian laws are creating too many specific restrictions on web users by challenging their anonymity and promoting self-censorship".

"These countries are worrying us because they have measures that could have repercussions for freedom of expression on the internet," RSF secretary general Jean-Francois Julliard said at an internet rights award ceremony on Thursday.

Russia and Turkey were also added to the watchlist, which is a stage below RSF's top "Enemies of the internet", the countries it considers the 12 worst web freedom violators.

These include Saudi Arabia, Burma, China, North Korea, Iran and Vietnam.

"The world's largest netizen prison is in China, which is far out ahead of other countries with 72 detainees, followed by Vietnam and then by Iran, which have all launched waves of brutal attacks on websites in recent months," RSF's report said.

A senior manager of Google, David Drummond, said there was an "alarming trend" of government interference in online freedom, not only in countries that are judged to have poor human rights records.

He pointed to Australia's plans as a classic example, saying that there "the wide scope of content prohibited could include socially and politically controversial material".

The Australian case "is an example of where these benign intentions can result in the spectre of true censorship".

"Here in Europe, even in France, at this very moment, some are tempted by this slippery path of network filtering."

As recently as last month, after Senator Conroy called on YouTube to censor videos in accordance with his filtering scheme, the search giant's head of policy in Australia, Iarla Flynn, said: "The scope of RC is simply too broad and can raise genuine questions about restrictions on access to information. RC includes the grey realms of material instructing in any crime from [painting] graffiti to politically controversial crimes such as euthanasia, and exposing these topics to public debate is vital for democracy."

Gambling911 and Media Man International are advising Aussie punters to enjoy online poker and casino games while they can at websites such as PartyPoker, PartyCasino, PKR, PokerStars and Betfair.

Management at Gambling911 is hopeful that their own website (which reports on poker, gaming, gambling, sports betting and politics) doesn't end up being banned by the Aussie government.

A little birdie has told us that the Australian government should expect more attacks on their own websites in retribution, and rumours are circulating of more protests being arranged on Australian soil, and one disturbing report of a public riot being organised. Stay tuned for more on this developing situation.

*The writer is a special contributor for Gambling911

*The writer is a member of Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance and the National Press Club

*Media Man is primarily a media, publicity and internet portal development company

http://www.mediamanint.com

Greg Tingle, Gambling911.com

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